Renowned filmmaker Terry Gilliam was once asked the difference between legendary directors Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg. Gilliam talked about how Spielberg’s films are comforting. Questions are answered, loose ends tied up, all with a nice bow on top. They give you answers.
Kubrick’s, according to Gilliam, are quite the opposite. You don’t know what endings mean or how you should interpret them, and you can talk to a group of friends afterwards who all will have different perspectives. Kubrick films make you go home and think about them. They’re discomforting.
Ogilvy & Mather Hong Kong’s Chief Creative Officer, showed video of Gilliam’s opinion during a presentation this week at Spikes Asia. But Collins’ talk wasn’t merely about film; it focused on creativity and where it comes from; the creative institutions, organizations and structures that exist in modern communications. Like film, advertising has its “Hollywood”—the big holding companies like WPP and Omnicom—and its “independents”—Wieden+Kennedy and Jung v. Matt. How does this relationship between conglomerates and smaller, independent agencies compare to the film industry’s Hollywood vs. indies?
To understand this comparison, Collins took us back in time to the Golden Age of cinema, the 1930s and 1940s era highlighted by classic films such as Casablanca and Citizen Kane. At this time, the industry was dominated by five studios who controlled virtually everything about the film industry; what was being made, how it was being made, how it would be distributed, etc. Eventually, independent cinema started to flourish. There has always been an audience, Collins said, that demands something else. When the studio power eroded—thanks in part to a Supreme Court ruling against monopolization in entertainment— independent cinema was there to serve this wanting audience. The films of directors like Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese challenged the status quo. They might have been messier, more offbeat, and weirder, but there’s no doubting the influence they carried.
Though we’ve gone from television to VHS tapes to the on-demand world of Netflix and YouTube, we still live in a world of dominant, large entertainment companies. Sony, News Corp, NBC Universal and the like still own an incredible amount of the entertainment we take in. While lots of it is very good, the independent scene still serves an audience who wants more. The entertainment industry, in a sense, needs both the big fish and the little fish coexisting in the same pond in order to succeed.
The communications industry mirrors entertainment, according to Collins, in that there are rulers and bosses, too. A lot of the big holding companies impart freedom on smaller agencies and departments within, where there are many talented people doing excellent work.
But at 2014 Cannes Lions, 43% of the Grand Prixs went to independent agencies. Like the emergence of arthouse filmmakers, they’re in many ways setting new standards. The big boys have to keep up. Without the existence and constant challenge of smaller, independent, boundary-pushing agencies, the work that comes out of the big networks would suffer.
So which is better? That’s up to the individual. Collins said, “Creativity always finds a way,” but also urged the audience to “Be more B Movie”. The arthouse/independent side often doesn’t worry about margins and efficiencies, is riskier and edgier, and asks all the questions rather than answering them. Holding companies and Hollywood have with a Studio Cut while the indies have the Director’s Cut.
Which you prefer is up to you, but it’s hard to imagine a world with one and not the other.